The UK Government’s Wales Bill has completed its journey through Parliament and Assembly Members (AMs) will vote to support or reject it on Tuesday 17 January.
All the smart money is saying that AMs will support it. The biggest obstacle to this was removed in late December 2016 when it was revealed that the UK and Wales Governments had arrived at an agreement on how Welsh public services would be funded once tax powers were devolved.
Devolving teachers’ pay and conditions is part of the Wales Bill.
If the Wales Bill gets the support of a majority of AMs in late January, it is conceivable that teacher pay and conditions will be devolved to Welsh Government as early as Spring 2017 when the Wales Bill gets Royal Assent.
This will mean that Wales will need a mechanism of its own to replace the current arrangements.
Currently, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) leads an annual process that takes evidence from union and other organisations and then provides independent and published advice to the UK Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education on school teachers’ pay and conditions in England and Wales.
Broadly, school leader and teacher unions have been supportive of the process even when opposed to the final decisions, which remain with Ministers.
Insider sources say that Welsh government officials and teacher representatives have had some discussions about what might replace the STRB process in Wales but no specific proposals have emerged as yet.
Almost all the organisations that submit evidence to the STRB depend on expertise that is housed somewhere outside of Wales. These organisations will need to consider how they will engage with this new Welsh arrangement.
School leaders, teachers and others will be keen to see that there is at least comparability of pay and conditions for practitioners across Wales and England. This will be particularly relevant in border areas, from Wrexham to Chepstow.
Securing comparability of pay and conditions is likely to be a challenging task.
Schools have had some flexibility over wages since the removal of pay scales and the introduction of performance pay progression in 2013, driven by UK Government.
Savvy employers are fully aware that it is necessary to use the flexibility that is in the system to attract school leaders and teachers if there are particular recruitment issues, such as subject teacher shortages or where the recruiting school has high challenge. This makes benchmarking pay for comparability quite difficult.
The STRB is currently considering evidence in readiness for recommendations that would apply for academic year 2017-18. It reports to the Secretary of State for Education in April 2017. It remains to be seen if these recommendations will apply in Wales.